Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Buddha Logo

Some months back I got a telephone call from an American woman who was in Singapore on business. Our conversation went something like this.

Her. Good morning. I’m ringing to try to get some information about Buddhism (cheerful).
Me. Yes. How can I help you?
Her. We’re launching a new line of clothing, T shirts and the like. And the logo for the line is a picture of the Buddha holding a cup of tea. I’m sure Buddhists wouldn’t be offended by this. What would you think about this?
Me. A picture of the Buddha holding a cup of tea?
Her. Yep.
Me. As a logo on T shirts?
Her. Yes. That’s right.
Me. Look, I’m just a simple monk so you explain for me. What’s the connection between the Buddha and clothing? And why the cup of tea?
Her. Well, you know. The Buddha is associated with, you know, spirituality, the infinite and all that. And the cup of tea suggests, you know, casualness, easygoingness, you know.
Me. Mmm. Actually I don’t know. But you would like my opinion about this. Is that right?
Her. Yes.
Me. Well, I don’t think this is very offensive and I don’t think the average Buddhist would be offended by it either. I don’t think they are going to throw rocks through you window, threaten to kill you or burn down your factory. But I do think that a logo like this belittles Buddhism and I think most Buddhists would agree with me. They would probably be more sad than angry that an images which is particularly meaningful to them was being used so frivolously. And also that it is being used for a commercial goal.
Her. But I’m a Buddhist myself. I would never belittle the Buddha.
Me. You’re a Buddhist?
Her. Absolutely! I respect the Buddha and Buddhism (defensive).
Me. What are the Four Noble Truths?
Her. Er!..Um…Um. Er! The Four Noble Truths? (very hesitant)
Me. Yes, the Four Noble Truths. What are the Four Noble Truths?
Her. Er! D…D…D…Dalka?
Me. Mm. Am I right in saying that you are reading that from a book in front of you?
Her. I feel like I’m being interrogated here (slightly annoyed).
Me. Well. You told me you were a Buddhist. I asked you a pretty basic question about the Buddha’s teachings and you didn’t know it. The proper pronunciation is dukkha. I suspect that like a lot of people you mistake ‘respect’ for Buddhism, for liking it from a distance, while knowing very little about it and not practicing the parts that don’t suit you.
Her. No! I really respect Buddhism.
Me. Well, to get back to your question. You asked me for my opinion about your logo and I told you what I think. I think it belittles and diminishes a noble man and a noble philosophy of life and I think it is an unfortunate choice. I think to use a sacred image for commercial purposes in insensitive to the feelings of others and inappropriate. It’s on a par with getting an image of the Buddha, drilling a hole in the top of its head and sticking a lamp shade in it. I don’t think I can say anything else.
Her. Well, thank you (irritated).
Me. Be well and happy.

6 comments:

Dhamma81 said...

Your answers to her were quite good. "I think it belittles and diminishes a noble man and a noble philosophy of life and I think it is an unfortunate choice. I think to use a sacred image for commercial purposes in insensitive to the feelings of others and inappropriate. It’s on a par with getting an image of the Buddha, drilling a hole in the top of its head and sticking a lamp shade in it. I don’t think I can say anything else."

The lamp shade thing was quite funny. I haven't seen any lamps like that before, but I wouldn't be surprised. After reading the Buddhist Channel site and some other sources it seems like Buddhism is the new "hip" thing these days. Like so many other things, it will be a passing fad for many, but perhaps someone might get interested in a serious manner after seeing the Buddha outside a bar or as a lampshade. There is a little place around here called "Buddha Belly" and they actually serve alcohol! I thought about writing them a letter or calling to discuss with management how that flys in the face of the precepts but I held my tongue, I didn't really want to fight a losing battle. I'll look for the shirts at the local Walmart within the next year or so. I wish you well in your practice.

Justin Choo said...

Bhante,

It was most appropriate that she "met" you.

Yueheng said...

This reminds me of a Zen story:

There was an old woman in China who had supported a monk for over twenty years. She had built a little hut for him and fed him while he was meditating. Finally she wondered just what progress he had made in all this time.

To find out, she obtained the help of a girl rich in desire. “Go and embrace him,” she told her, “and then ask him suddenly: ‘What now?’”

The girl called upon the monk and without much ado caressed him, asking him what he was going to do about it.

“An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter,” replied the monk somewhat poetically. “Nowhere is there any warmth.”

The girl returned and related what he had said.

“To think I fed that fellow for twenty years!” exclaimed the old woman in anger. “He showed no consideration for your needs, no disposition to explain your condition. He need not have responded to passion, but at least he should have evidenced some compassion.”

She at once went to the hut of the monk and burned it down.

Tazzie said...

Isn't it interesting how many people want to "get in on the act" as it were. They may not know much about Buddhism or its founder, but I expect somehow they want to bathe in the reflected glory of Buddhism or somehow align themselves with it by using the iconography of Buddhism (images of The Lord Buddha
in particular)as a commercial logo,
or decoration etc. One specific example that comes to mind was a large Buddha Statue that was the namesake of a cocktail bar in Dubai
as I recall. Fancy that, a Buddha statue installed inside a Muslim country instead of being destroyed for a change eg,( historical Bhamiyan valley , standing Buddha statues Afghanistan 2001 ). How I came to hear of this "Buddha Bar" statue was through a Buddhist chain email requesting that I add my name in protest against this supposedly unacceptable use of a Buddha statue . I thought for a while and then chose not to add my name to the growing email. During my 24 years as a Buddhist convert I noticed a kind of on going, pervasive emergence of Buddhist iconography into the everyday sensibilities of western culture wher once thre was none.EG(take note of how many Buddha statues you notice ESP in the printed or visual electronic media over the course of a day )To me the superficial use of Buddhist iconography by non Buddhists in a pluralist society is infinitely preferable to the systematic destruction of such iconography and cultures by repressive monocultures-esp Muslim- that have dominated central asia , indonesia etc for the last millenium or so. Who knows.. if only one patron of The Buddha Bar gazes upon the image of The Buddha and seeks to find out more about Buddhism then I believe that this has been a good outcome. But I am only a simple layman! PS…..

As I recall there is a Mahayana Bodhisattva who goes to the hell realms to try to ease the suffering of those trapped there? Although probably not intended to be, the Buddha Bar statue seems a bit like this.. to me at least!. Wasn’t Jesus supposed to associate with whores and other low lives out of compassion for them?? To me , the sight of a Buddha statue in virtually any context (lamps included) is an encouraging sign, of a healthy pluralist society. However the destruction of Buddhist artifacts( eg Buddha cliff statue in Pakistan07) is a warning to us all.. Buddhist or other, that once pluralist civilizations such as Hindu\ Buddhist Indonesia of the last milenium and beyond, can be overtaken relatively quickly by virulent monoculture that will efficiently continue to remove every trace of what came before long after adherents to the previous religion have ceased to exist.

Tazzie said...

Isn't it interesting how many people want to "get in on the act" as it were. They may not know much about Buddhism or its founder, but I expect somehow they want to bathe in the reflected glory of Buddhism or somehow align themselves with it by using the iconography of Buddhism (images of The Lord Buddha
in particular)as a commercial logo,
or decoration etc. One specific example that comes to mind was a large Buddha Statue that was the namesake of a cocktail bar in Dubai
as I recall. Fancy that, a Buddha statue installed inside a Muslim country instead of being destroyed for a change eg,( historical Bhamiyan valley , standing Buddha statues Afghanistan 2001 ). How I came to hear of this "Buddha Bar" statue was through a Buddhist chain email requesting that I add my name in protest against this supposedly unacceptable use of a Buddha statue . I thought for a while and then chose not to add my name to the growing email. During my 24 years as a Buddhist convert I noticed a kind of on going, pervasive emergence of Buddhist iconography into the everyday sensibilities of western culture.EG(take note of how many Buddha statues you notice ESP in the printed or visual electronic media over the course of a day )To me the superficial use of Buddhist iconography by non Buddhists in a pluralist society is infinitely preferable to the systematic destruction of such iconography and cultures by repressive monocultures-esp Muslim- that have dominated central asia , indonesia etc for the last millenium or so. Who knows.. if only one patron of The Buddha Bar gazes upon the image of The Buddha and seeks to find out more about Buddhism then I believe that this has been a good outcome. But I am only a simple layman! PS…..

As I recall there is a Mahayana Bodhisattva who goes to the hell realms to try to ease the suffering of those trapped there? Although probably not intended to be, the Buddha Bar statue seems a bit like this.. to me at least!. Wasn’t Jesus supposed to associate with whores and other low lives out of compassion for them?? To me , the sight of a Buddha statue in virtually any context (lamps included) is an encouraging sign, of a healthy pluralist society. However the destruction of Buddhist artifacts( eg Buddha cliff statue in Pakistan07) is a warning to us all.. Buddhist or other, that once pluralist civilizations such as Hindu\ Buddhist Indonesia of the last milenium and beyond, can be overtaken relatively quickly by virulent monoculture that will efficiently continue to remove every trace of what came before long after adherents to the previous religion have ceased to exist.

Chela said...

aho!